Not only was Ypres lounging in an armchair with a cigar, a vile habit if there was ever one, but I was soon to discover that she was not on her own. Adjacent to her cigar, standing with hands in pockets, stage left (mine, not hers – left, not pockets), stood Alistair. (To be clear they were Alistair’s pockets, and, to be absolutely transparent, his hands.) I thought Coutts kept better tabs on its three-piece suit set. I do not know how he had escaped from London.
Ypres and Alistair were the only two about. I was soon to learn that the establishment had been kept open beyond operating hours for their enjoyment.
I am a very patient girl. You may be certain I am not the only one to say so. Many a time I have been thanked for my patience by some bemused shopkeeper. Each time, the remark has been delivered with the utmost sincerity and without a hint of irony. In short, it is a well-known fact, in informed circles, that I am patience incarnate.
Therefore, when I saw Mildred Ypres puffing away at a juicy cigar like a well-fed tuna at the Tokyo fish market, serenely contemplating its existence in a Zen setting, I immediately took on the role of a Japanese fishmonger. I displayed calm resolve (a state of fact in the Japanese metropolis, but an abnormality in New York). I entered the cigar lounge.
Alistair was about to issue the how-do-you-dos when I gave him a look that I reserve for inattentive tailors. Sensing the tension in the air, he soon made his excuses, and left. Ypres and I stood alone (well actually I stood, chest out, head up, abs engaged, while Ypres sat one leg crossed over the other).
“Ypres,” I dropped.
“Vasa,” came the monotone reply.
“You, of all people, must know that smoking is a vile habit. That it is immensely detrimental to one’s health, and perhaps worse, one’s skin.”
“I abuse the vice sparsely in full knowledge of its effects.”
Not missing a beat, I pounced.
“Apparently, I am engaged to be married.”
“You have my most heartfelt congratulations, Vasa! I am certain Alistair would have said the same had he not left so abruptly.”
“Is that all you have to say?” I retorted in the manner of the aforementioned Japanese fishmonger. This time I was mentally sharpening my knife. I felt there was going to be seared tuna for dinner.
Ypres puffed out a cigar ring.
Most days she merely quoted Churchill, or appealed to his spirit of resistance, but there, before me, her normal fishlike blandness gave way to an uncertain strength.
So it was. We had sized each other up, and through our body language, set our cards on the table. As always, my body language was more fashionable.
“You know to who I am engaged, Ypres.”
“Don’t play games with me!”
“It is ‘to whom’, not “to who”, in proper form. Although, in some cases, such as verbal use, an allowance can be made for the more casual usage.”
Ypres did not think I would notice her delaying tactics, such as they were. She forgot that I am brilliant. I am not easily out-generalled.
“I am engaged to be married to that awful sonic experiment that is Madison. And it would appear that the idea comes from you!”
I gave the intonation of the last sentence the jolt of the thespian delivering the “et tu, Brute” of Shakespeare fame (or was it Marlowe). In a lesser spirit, the blow would have been devastating. Like the most intrepid of tuna, Ypres sat unfazed. My critically acclaimed embodiment of the Japanese fishmonger was somewhat diminished. Ypres’s resolve continued.
“Yes, I had a conversation with Madame LaPeine de Mort’s niece after we departed Prospect Park. I took the liberty of informing her of your follow-up plan.”
“Madison told me all about your liberty taking, and my supposed follow-up plan. She informed me in great detail how you used words like ‘manoeuvre’, and broadcast the fact that your friend had written a book. By the way, are we to have her over for cocktails?” I interrupted myself, a task usually reserved to others. “No! I am disappointed in you, Ypres. No amount of planning for cocktail parties with your literary friends or that reclusive Lord Mansfield will distract me from the facts. Ypres, you did not have permission to approach Madison with a plan of your own on my behalf. It was out of order, and perhaps worse, un-British.”
There was silence. Only the continuous cacophony of the Manhattan streets could be heard. I stood vin- something.
“I stand vin- something, Ypres.”
“Vindicated,” Ypres offered, putting out her cigar.
“Exactly, vindicated, Ypres. I take your measured silence as an apology.”
“I regret that my taking a liberty has caused you such concern.”
“It has, Ypres.”
“In my eagerness to be of assistance, I proposed a plan which you had not yet made me privy to.”
“Yes, I had not yet shared it with you.”
“I felt certain that you would, Vasa, and that its form would be that which I shared.”
“You’re right, Ypres. Faking an engagement to gain the sympathies of an Aunt would be something I would advise after one of my trademark brainstorms, perhaps as the direct result of an observation. Of course, I would not cast myself as the engaged, especially not with Madison. Yet, I suppose that as you took over my plan without consultation, you were bound to make an error. You may have a powerful brain and a Master’s from LSE, Ypres, but in the conundrum department you must learn to let me take the lead. It is only once I ask you, however rare the event may be, that you must spring into action. The feudal spirit and all that. As I am the embodiment of patient magnanimity, I forgive you, Ypres.”
“You are a true lady, Vasa.”
“Thank you, Ypres.” Here, without taking a breath, I delivered the killer blow. “Of course, as an exemplary measure, I will have to deduct your pay while here in New York.”
Ypres coughed silently. Twice.
I felt triumphant. Unfortunately, with Ypres, triumph is never an assured constant. She soon took the floor once more (not literally – Ypres is not, to my knowledge, a shoplifter).
“I should mention, that to ensure your plan comes to fruition, I have taken out a wedding announcement in the Sunday edition of The New York Times.”
“Are you saying the engagement is to be made public?”
“I fear it is the only way to convince Madame LaPeine de Mort of the engagement’s veracity.”
I froze momentarily. A burden of fear crossed my mind. An urgent question of the utmost importance had to be answered.
“Ypres, does the announcement include a picture?”
Please do not hesitate to report typos or spelling errors in the comment section below. They will be duly prosecuted under the law.
Vasa and Ypres’s first full-length adventure, Vasa and Ypres: A Mayfair Conundrum, is available on Amazon. If you enjoy Vasa and Ypres, please share on social media. Vasa and Ypres is on Twitter. You can also join over 1675 WordPress followers.
Should you be desperate to part with your money, and, in the process, fund Uncle Edward’s Vasa Assurances, a donation button is available on the homepage. Donations will help keep the Vasa and Ypres project going.